NetMenders is a personal ministry and vision given to me by God and one that I hope you will share.
Introduction – Nets and their Purpose
Nets are used for holding things in or keeping things out. Fishermen use them effectively to catch many fish at once, beaches may use them to prevent sharks entering a swimming area. Consider how important a safety net is when people are working at heights or how much relief a mosquito net provides to someone sleeping in a tropical jungle.
But what if the net is broken? How effective is it then? In many cases it may as well not be there at all. Once the breach is large enough the net becomes useless. Whatever is caught in it escapes out of (or enters through) the damaged area. And hope is lost as the very security or provision that the net offered is removed.
Nets in Life
Many areas in life depend on “nets”. We don’t really notice them until they are breached. We talk about safety nets for those in financial trouble and insurance policies are good example. The laws and rules that exist all around us provide similar protection. But there is something unique about a net versus other forms of protection. Its flexible, as light as possible and deliberately designed to enable some things to pass through and others to be caught. Because of this very principle a net is easily damaged and requires regular inspections and repairs to ensure its integrity.
So what sort of nets are we focusing on here? Broadly speaking, all sorts of areas in life from family relationships to friends to communities and even distant past connections. But one of the most critical for me is our connection to God. In bringing men back to God Jesus said to his disciples that he would make them fishers of men. In those days fishing was done from a boat using nets that were dropped over the side. These nets needed to be light but when they caught too many fish they could not only break but sink the boat! There is an example of this in Luke 5:6-7 MSG:
“It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.”
Obviously the disciples who were fishermen would not attempt to catch fish with a broken net. If we are to be effective in reaching the lost for Christ then we need nets that will hold the catch. The gospel is not just about getting reconnected with God but becoming a follower of Christ and enjoying the fellowship of other believers who are now a part of God’s family. Each of these processes rely on being nurtured and each has its vulnerabilities for being derailed or dropping through the net. In many respects “the church” is this net but it operates in many different ways to achieve this result. A net is used from a boat, being lowered into the water and enabling the fish to be hauled into the boat. The boat cannot catch fish without the net. The boat is part of the process but today we sometimes forget how to cast a net and instead expect fish to somehow just jump straight into the boat. So we see a process at work here to move people gently from the net into the boat. If I was to use another analogy that comes from William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, it is seeing the lost as being like individuals crying out for help in the sea of humanity which is about to drown them unless someone sends out the rescue boats and plucks them to safety.
Most of our efforts in reaching the lost is though individuals reaching out to other individuals but some will see the local church as their connection to God and will see baptisms, marriages, funerals and times of crisis as the points of connection. Communities may see the local churches within their area as representing who God is and how he thinks. Considering these things leaves us with an awesome responsibility. Our kindness, love, compassion, concern and sensitivity to others will provide a net to draw all men to Jesus – only as we lift Him up. To the degree that we fail to show Jesus in our lives and in our churches we will also fail to draw men to Jesus – our net will be broken.
Today I still see a number of breaches in our nets. One that has been significantly restored over recent years is unity within the body of Christ. In many areas churches are willing to pray and reach out to their community together. But in terms of having a net that will hold a catch we have not really seen many coming to faith in Christ despite this. Why is this not resulting in more fruitfulness? Similarly, during discipleship and in finding fellowship there are significant drop offs. It reminds us also of the parable of the sower and the seed that landed in different soil. It is the hearts that are well prepared that will bear fruit that lasts. So let’s look at what we can do to improve these things.
Firstly, I would suggest the biggest issue is proclamation. We don’t share the message of salvation enough both directly and through more creative ways such as song, drama, testimonies, discovering Christianity groups, etc. Without hearing and being asked for a response most people do not receive the gospel message. Why are our nets failing in this area? I think in many cases it comes down to some basic issues of fears, hurts and confidence. We fear rejection from those around us. We have been hurt by the harsh approach to being told to evangelise. And most importantly, we have not been given a sense of confidence knowing we are effective in the task.
Next, I would suggest we are not good at following up new converts. We need to realize that a new baby cannot feed itself and a child cannot be expected to make right choices without some parental guidance. And yet many new Christians will resist being discipled and we will feel that we have to just let them go their own way. Again we would ask why this net of discipleship is failing? Maybe we are not convinced that we are responsible for those the Lord gives us to nurture, maybe we fear rejection but our greatest challenge is that we may not be prepared to walk alongside people no matter what, to keep coming back and never giving up. If we want to see Christians grow and have strong foundations in their lives then discipleship is a key. Then, when the storms in life come they will stand because their lives are built on Christ the solid rock.
Thirdly, in a similar way to how new converts may shun discipleship many Christians today do not like being in intimate fellowship with others. There may be many reasons such as being hurt in the past or not wanting to stop certain habits but unless we accept deep fellowship we will not grow. As it says in the scriptures in 1 John 1:7 MSG:
“But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin.”
There are many scriptures that highlight these things and I will expand on there as separate topics.
So back to net mending. How can we ensure that we, as Christians and over all as churches, have nets that catch the fish, hold them and get them into the boat? We need to restore these principles of Salvation, Discipleship and Fellowship. To do this requires us to develop Teamwork, Commitment and Relationships with those of a similar heart within our churches and across churches.
So in finishing sharing this vision I want to leave you with a picture of what I think God has in mind in calling us into this ministry that captures the faith element, the need for depth and the result we can expect as described in Luke 5:4-6 MSG:
‘When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.” Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity.’
Imagine that! Please join me in this exciting journey.